Starting the discussion about youth in conflict
Romeo Dallaire on youth resiliency
Katie McDonald - January 24, 2012
There’s no simple solution to dealing with children and youth in conflict situations.
That’s why the National Centres for Excellence (NCE) Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts Network (CYCC) — a knowledge mobilization network — is collaborating with experts from across the country in a series of webinars that will focus on youth violence, youth engagement and positive use of technology.
Leading the discussion in the first of three lectures was a man who knows war and its effects on children all too well.
Lieutenant General The Honourable Romeo Dallaire (retired), champion of human rights and renowned speaker on the use and abuse of child soldiers, was on campus earlier this month addressing participants via webcast on the lessons learned from children in conflict overseas and how they could be applied to children in other settings like systemic poverty and gang wars.
Lt.-Gen. Dallaire was Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1993 where he witnessed the genocide of over 800,000 Rwandans in 100 days. Since retiring from the military, Lt.-Gen Dallaire has conducted extensive research on conflict solution and the use of child soldiers.
Security, not social
There are many reasons a child or youth may migrate to a gang-like environment, says Lt.-Gen Dallaire. It may be for food or shelter; it may because their families do not provide a safe haven; it may be for cultural or ideological reasons. Regardless, these are the barriers in the way of reducing the recruitment of children to violent contexts.
“There’s not a single discipline solution [when dealing with children in conflict]. It’s not resolved by throwing them in jail,” said Lt.-Gen Dallaire in the virtual Q&A style seminar. “[There needs to be] a multidisciplinary approach that includes NGOs, humanitarian agencies, and political groups who have the nuances to provide a synergy of security.”
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He went on to say we need to start seeing youth in conflict as not just a social issue.
“We need to start seeing these issues through a security lens,” he argues. “Trying to bring the country back on its feet and reducing poverty, yes, it has standing power. But it doesn’t have the urgency that security does.”
By qualifying these children and bringing them into the context of a security problem, it draws attention to the larger community who want to see the violence resolved, he explains.
Leaders must be identified
After a brief introduction on lessons learned from his experiences with child soldiers in the developing world, Lt.-Gen Dallaire began discussing the role of the community at large when addressing children and youth in challenging contexts here in Canada.
“We underestimate the reality of the brutality and ruthlessness that exist in gangs and organizations here in Canada,” he said. “We’re working from a premise that we’re not in a war zone.”
He went on to say that although Canadian youth are not fighting the same wars as those living in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, or Rio, they are still dealing with the similar issues and notice should be taken.
“When it comes to gangs, it’s important to remember that everything falls and flows from the leader – aspirations, ambitions, treatment of others,” he says. “The leader is your primary target. If your focus is to try and extract the followers, you are wasting your rations because they will just be replaced.”
Lt.-Gen Dallaire says it’s crucial to focus on leaders in dismantling gangs, and while use of force is only necessary in extreme cases, simply surrounding the leader with other options for that potential to be used should prevail.
Lt.-Gen Dallaire stresses the importance of professional help for children and youth who have left conflict situations and says on top of this, there are other ways they can build resiliency.
“Peer support is your best tool,” he says. “Youth need people to talk to, who demonstrate empathy and who let them express themselves and just listen.”
The concept of peer support is not widely exercised in Canadian school systems, Lt.-Gen Dallaire says. But in fact can have a huge impact of children and youth in challenging contexts.
The Resilience Research Centre is one of three research centres at Dal who were awarded a Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) grant for knowledge mobilization. The goal is to create the Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts Network which will mobilize knowledge across geographical and professional boundaries.
Dr. Michael Ungar and Dr. Linda Liebenberg, CYCC scientific director and network director respectively, along with Shelly Whitman, deputy director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies and director of the Child Solider Initiative, greeted Lt.-Gen Dallaire while he visited campus.